Back in the good ol' US of A, I used to make candied nuts for snacks or holiday treats using the standard American oven. You know, the kind that comes in every house from coast to coast, from California McMansions to tiny tenement apartments in the Lower East Side. (The one in my LES tenement was always on the fritz, but that's a tangent for another time.)
In China, home ovens are almost impossible to find outside of the newest and priciest pads. So while Western recipes for candied walnuts and pecans tend to say bake in the oven, Chinese recipes call for deep-frying. I had never fried walnuts before but decided to try today. My wok is still pretty new, and even though it has already been seasoned, deep-frying is good for getting more oil into the metal.
I had originally planned to save these walnuts for an after-dinner snack, when I settle into the couch and tune in to China's version of HGTV. So putting them within easy reach of Jacob and me was a bad idea. The walnuts are almost all gone and we haven't even begun to make dinner.
Candied Walnuts without an Oven
Adapted from Mrs. Chiang's Szechuan Cookbook and 101 Cookbooks
2 cups shelled walnuts
1 1/2 cups (300 g) granulated white sugar
3 to 4 cups peanut or canola oil for deep frying
Special equipment: 1. Deep fryer, wok, or heavy stockpot. 2. Slotted spoon or metal strainer
In a heatproof bowl, pour enough boiling water over the walnuts to cover. Let soak for 3 minutes. Drain, then return the walnuts to the same bowl and mix in sugar. The heat from the walnuts and the bowl will melt the sugar. Mix until the walnuts are fully coated.
Pour enough oil into your fryer/work/pot to a depth of at least 3 inches (8 cm). Heat the oil over medium heat until hot enough, when the wok begins to emit a bit of smoke. Reduce the heat to low and put in a spoonful of walnuts, allowing the foam to subside before adding more. (Otherwise the foam could spill over and cause burns.) Fry the walnuts until medium-brown, about a minute for big pieces and 30 seconds for small pieces. Careful not to burn the walnuts. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon or metal strainer, and transfer to a baking sheet to cool. Repeat with the remaining walnuts, working in small batches every time.
Allow the walnuts to cool before serving. These can also be stored in an air-tight container for up to 2 weeks.